Guide on the Side (GotS) is an application developed at the University of Arizona by Leslie Sult and Mike Hagedon for the creation of online, interactive tutorials. A welcome addition to many librarians’ instruction options, it does not require a classroom, or even skills in lecture capture and video editing. The software is available as open-source code to anyone to install and configure for their own institutional needs.
At its most basic level, GotS is a step-by-step tutorial that works alongside a web browser. In comparison to other online tutorial experiences, such as might be made with Camtasia, the person following a GotS tutorial does not need a video component running at the same time, or multiple windows open. Moreover, it is not necessary to launch or download any files or plug-ins. The navigational structure is straightforward, with clearly delineated steps and back/forward buttons enabling one to set his or her own learning pace. There is also a collapsible table of contents located in the top right corner of the tutorial. At the time of writing, there is no mobile-friendly version in development.
The experience of generating a tutorial is relatively straightforward and simple, requiring little advanced technology experience. Although the simple design and formatting controls are not well-labeled, this is easily remedied with the helpful and concise Creator Guide.
The editing layout is a single box with editing tools underneath. Though easy to learn, this single Microsoft Word-like page as a canvas for the entire tutorial gets unwieldy quickly, particularly when trying to organize a slightly lengthier tutorial. The key to a successful tutorial is GotS’s page break/chapter-heading insert tool, which is the primary means of organizing content.
Because tutorial creation is so simple with GotS, it opens a possible floodgate of poorly crafted tutorials. The ease with which we can now edit web-based documents is fantastic, but “WYSIWYG” has never implied that good intentions equal good design. A poorly planned, unfocused tutorial could be worse than nothing at all. The appeal of “easy” design needs to be tempered by sound educational and instructional objectives realized through careful planning. Easy-to-use can be its own drawback.
Another potential drawback is GotS’s necessary installation and configuration. It is not the easiest program to install on one’s own, an issue compounded by the need for access to a server. The readme file and download instructions are dense and intended for someone with web application configuration experience. While the demos give one helpful exposure to the tool, it would be difficult to install without systems help.
However, web-based interactive tutorials are used by units beyond the library and this interface is easily transferrable to a non-library topic or setting. Convincing an institution to adopt GotS might be more successful if the case were made that it would also help Human Resources, Business Offices, Information Technology, or anyone who trains students or staff. The GotS web application could also be shared between institutions as long as one institution is willing to install, host and support it. Consortia or resource sharing groups could conceivably distribute this burden.
Ryan Brubacher, Senior Instruction + Research Support Specialist for the Arts & Humanities
Los Angeles, California